Israeli work crews demolish Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem
The work begins after a long legal battle over the dwellings.
Israeli work crews have begun demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Monday’s demolitions cap a years-long legal battle over the buildings, which straddle the city and the occupied West Bank.
Israel says the buildings were built illegally too close to its West Bank separation barrier.
But residents say they have nowhere to build and getting permits to build homes legally is impossible.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, said the supreme court ruled the illegal construction “constitutes a severe security threat and can provide cover to suicide bombers and other terrorists hiding among civilian population”.
He said that those who built houses along the separation barrier “took the law into their own hands”.
The demolitions, which began overnight, have already destroyed several of the more than 20 apartments in the buildings.
The United Nations estimates about 20 people are believed to live in the buildings and some 350 property owners who have not yet moved in will be affected.
In a joint statement, senior UN humanitarian officials in the region expressed “sadness” over the demolitions and warned that many other homes could face “the same fate”.
“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” they said.
In Gaza, the territory’s Hamas rulers called for intensifying “resistance” to the “the Zionist settlement project”.
“The increase in the occupation’s crimes against the residents of the holy city is a result of total American support,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the militant group.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital – a step that is not internationally recognised. The competing claims to the territory have created myriad legal complexities.
Israel built its separation barrier in the early 2000s in a step that it says was needed to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israel from the West Bank.
The Palestinians say the structure is an illegal land grab because it juts into the West Bank in many places.
Sur Baher is one of those places. In negotiations with residents, Israel built the route of the structure in Sur Baher inside the West Bank to prevent dividing the village and disrupting life, according to court documents.
However, residents, claiming it is impossible to get Israeli building permits in east Jerusalem, began building the apartment buildings in the West Bank part of the village with permission from the Palestinian Authority.
Early this decade, the Israeli military ordered the construction to stop, saying it could not permit high-rise buildings so close to the separation barrier.
Israel’s supreme court this month rejected residents’ final appeal, clearing the way for the demolitions.